ORAL STATEMENT OF DR. KENNETH PREWITT DIRECTOR, U.S. BUREAU OF THE CENSUS
Mr. Chairman, Mrs. Maloney, Mr. Davis, thank you for this opportunity to present and answer questions on the Census 2000 Operation Plan, first sent to you six weeks ago, and now refined to incorporate the evaluation based on the Census Bureau's Dress Rehearsal experience. I have submitted written testimony, and will now more briefly comment on issues raised in the letter of invitation to appear before this Subcommittee.
I appreciate as well the opportunity to comment on Chairman Miller's ten suggestions for how to improve the census. Later in my comments I divide this 10-point list into two categories. On seven of the items we welcome the approach taken by the Chairman. They are consistent with what the Census Bureau has learned about how to strengthen the census. We readily embrace a more extensive advertising campaign, a census-in-the-schools program that will involve 100% of the nation's schools, greater resources for the partnership program, additional enumerators, a partnership with the National Service Corporation, and the waiver initiative. And in each of these areas, if time allows, I can outline what the Census Bureau has already initiated.
On three items--2nd mailing, the language initiative, and local government review of mailing addresses--the Census Bureau believes it has already presented more efficient programs than the suggestions advanced by Chairman Miller. Indeed, if some of these initiatives were legislated in the manner now before the Subcommittee, they would disrupt and even place at risk Census 2000. I will, of course, allocate more time to those three than to the seven on which there is general agreement.
First, a word about a census. It has unique features, making it one of the most complicated operations conducted by the U.S. government. Think of it as a three-dimensional task -- a count, an address list, a date. Count every resident of the United States -- estimated to be 275 million in 2000. Identify every residential address in the United States -- estimated to be 120 million in 2000. Assign 275 million people to 120 million addresses on a fixed, single date, April 1, 2000. Each of these operations by themselves is enormous -- people are on the move, addresses come and go, and this movement and transformation does not conveniently pause just because census day is 1 April.
It is because the task is huge and complex that the Census Bureau is very careful in how it proceeds. To the extent possible, and especially for procedures not used in prior censuses, we test everything, and weigh what works and what does not. Hours of deliberation, even argument, precede a decision to build any given procedure into the census. Census staff take turns challenging each other to prove the merits of a given operation. Nothing is haphazard, nothing is casual. Every step is carefully, deliberately considered. In this lengthy process, which started for the 2000 Census 12 years ago (just as in 2000 we will test procedures that might be incorporated in 2010), we select and discard based on one overriding criteria -- will this lead to a more accurate and complete count. Selection among alternative procedures is based not on what is more or less difficult, but what is more or less productive. To suggest that the Census Bureau excludes a particular procedure because it "would be too much trouble" reflects a serious misrepresentation of the dedication and commitment of the Census Bureau career professionals.
When the pieces are all put together, when the whole is assembled -- testing starts all over again. For now we must determine how well the integrated system will work, not just the individual pieces. As the Chairman knows, because he visited our Beta testing site in Suitland, this too is a painstaking task. For example, twenty-five major software systems have had to be designed, and linked together. These software systems allow us to track 175 million forms, pay hundreds of thousands of workers, monitor tens of thousands of partnership programs, produce 12 million maps--and all of these things, and more, on a very tight schedule. Every step, every operation, every procedure is at huge scale and is interdependent with every other step, operation, procedure.
This Operational Plan (Census 2000 Operational Plan, Using Traditional Census-Taking Methods, January, 1999), as refined in this Update (Updated Summary: Census Operational Plan, February, 1999) based on Dress Rehearsal experiences, is a plan to conduct Census 2000.
This census plan is now being documented in excruciating detail in what the Census Bureau terms its Master Activity Schedule. That Master Activity Schedule is 4000 lines of code. But it is more than that. It is a software program that shows how each step connects to every other step. Every procedure links to predecessor operations, horizontally to dozens of other operations, and then to successor operations. This morning I sat in our "lock-up" room, where 50 people are tracking every single line of that code. When completed, in approximately two weeks, it will specify all the steps required by the Operational Plan, already submitted to this Subcommittee.
We believe it critical to lock-in these these procedures now. I plead with you not to impose on us the risk of going into the census with "just-in-time" programming, with untested procedures, with additions whose consequences for other operations will not be discovered until they happen. The operational machinery that constitutes a census is not something to be taken lightly.
You have asked me to focus on procedures to enhance traditional enumeration procedures, and also to comment on the ten-point list of suggestions under ACT - America Counts Today.
I intend no disrespect, but I do have to emphasize that ACT does not constitute a census plan. It is a series of isolated initiatives. I do not make light of these initiatives, and have already indicated that we readily embrace seven of them. I only suggest that they are not a plan -- for example, they speak to a tiny part of the huge operation described in Census 2000 Operational Plan as the Master Address File. Except indirectly, and not helpfully, they have nothing to do with the enormous optical scanning operation planned for Census 2000. They do not help us with the difficult issue of unduplication, or with the operations needed to validate that housing units are vacant. And on and on.
Again, we welcome seven of the initiatives, have serious reservations about three, but, more generally, have to describe them for what they are -- isolated suggestions. They are not a census plan. A census plan is what is outlined in the documents already submitted to the subcommittee, and being specified in a Master Activity Schedule.
Take, for example, how to reach the linguistically isolated in our population. We welcome the Chairman's interest in this most difficult area, and can assure the Subcommittee that we intend to be as linguistically friendly as we possibly can. We do, however, believe that the program set forth in the Operational Plan reaches Chairman Miller's goal more efficiently than printing census forms in 33 languages. We are printing forms in the six languages that account for 99% of all households in the United States.
Does this mean that we are indifferent to the other 1% of the households, which speak, by the way, not just another 27 languages but perhaps as many as 130 or more languages? The Census Bureau gave a lot of attention to how to reach those population groups, but it of course wanted to do so in a manner that did not place at risk other census procedures -- such as how many pages of the form can be optically scanned.
We subjected this issue to what we call a business analysis. Here it is, 28 pages of detailed analysis listing all the pros and cons of not just one, but of four major alternatives. In the end, we designed a careful operation to reach those linguistically isolated households. I invite you to study it carefully before concluding that we did not give careful attention to the idea in draft legislation before this Subcommittee. We did consider that idea -- and rejected it not because it was "too hard" but because it would not do the job. Instead we have set forth an integrated language program that involves 15,000 paid temporary staff positions in the Questionnaire Assistant Centers, drawn from a wide range of language communities and the preparation of 15 million assistance guides in several dozen languages. We have also included a language focus in our partnership agreements with community organizations. All of this to reach that 1% of the population which does not speak one, or more, of the six languages already covered in the census operation.
Were the bill before you to pass, the following would have to happen. We would have to renegotiate our largest contracts--including nearly 20 printing contracts, the contracts for the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance program (DDS); Data Capture (Lockheed Martin); and Data Capture Service Centers (TRY). The entire workflow for receipt, image capture, transcription, and/or key-from-paper would have to be modified.
Let me offer one simple example. Here is the pre-census letter. It will go to 120 million households. The letter wording has been carefully designed to minimize confusion, maximize cooperation. There was extensive staff discussion on how to announce the availability of questionnaires in five languages other than English. You would now be asking that we figure out how to announce another 27 languages, which is of concern to approximately a million households, without confusing the remaining 119 million households. And this is just one simple procedure that could not at this late date be tested.
Similarly with the 2nd mailing, which I will not here consider in detail. But again, there is research, there is analysis, there is deliberation, there is judgement, there is Dress Rehearsal experience -- all of which indicates that its value is outweighed, substantially so, by the risks that it introduces in other census operations, not least of which is the deterioration in data quality in nonresponse followup. The targeted mailing is operationally impractical. The blanket mailing postpones nonresponse followup by approximately six weeks.
Also, with Post-Census Local Review. I discuss in some detail in my written testimony why the Census Bureau decided to replace a procedure that worked poorly in 1980 and 1990 with a much stronger, more extensive procedure in 2000.
I should take no more time in these opening comments, but I do hope that the question period will provide time to examine why the Census Bureau's carefully considered local review program reaches the goals that Chairman Miller and we share.
In conclusion, I again thank you for this opportunity.